THE FIVE BIGGEST LIES IN THE ENCRYPTION DEBATE
This conversation is all kinds of messed up. Let's start over.
- •Terrorists are "going dark""Going dark" suggests they weren’t in the dark already. We used to be able to listen in, and now we can’t. The problem is, that just isn’t true. Sometimes the "going dark" lie takes the form of a specific claim, as in the discredited reports that WhatsApp or the PlayStation network were used to plan the Paris attacks. But it’s also false in a general sense. There’s just no reason to think that the FBI is having a harder time tracking criminal activity than it did 15 years ago.
- •Tech companies aren’t cooperating with the governmentThe move to the cloud really has made data more accessible, and for the most part the FBI has no trouble getting it. The right court order will still get police into your Gmail and iCloud accounts, which probably also includes your phone’s photos and chat logs. Facebook served more than 800 wiretap orders last year in the US alone. Despite all the high-profile legal pushback, the vast majority of government requests are fulfilled.
- •What the FBI wants is impossible to implementRetaining all that data isn’t technically impossible; it just opens up a huge and unnecessary security hole. It means services can’t delete anything, and whatever database holds those records is going to become target number one for attackers. Whatever system you put in place to protect that database better be absolutely flawless because it will be the first system they try to break. Security is hard enough without painting a target on your back.
- •It’s about encryptionThe FBI is perfectly happy with encryption as long as all it’s doing is protecting your credit card number and making sure no one other than Google can see your email. What they don’t like is when encryption is used to lock them out — or worse, when the data they want isn’t retained at all. Put very simply, they don’t want you to be able to have a conversation on the internet that they can’t somehow monitor, given the right legal authorities.
- •Regulating tech companies will help us stop terrorist plotsThe problem is, there’s no evidence that that’s true. Hindsight investigations have found lots of tragically dropped leads in the run-up to recent attacks, but they’ve mostly been either available information that was ignored or pre-existing flags within the intelligence system. Even beyond specific attacks, there’s little evidence of ISIS and other terror groups planning attacks from US-owned tech platforms.